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|Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas finished fifth overall last season. (Photo: AFP/Erwin Scheriau)|
The Finn was quickest with an early best lap in one minute and 26.732 to end up outpacing the defending five-time champion and overall leader by 0.069 seconds.
It banished any fears the Silver Arrows' struggles in the heat of Austria's Styrian Alps would be repeated in the cooler and damp conditions of central England.
With Hamilton showing ominous pace and consistency in his race simulation runs, it was confirmation for Mercedes their superiority had returned even if the Briton warned onlookers to expect more pace from Ferrari on Saturday.
"It's been quite windy, quite gusty out there, so it hasn't been the easiest of days," said Hamilton.
"But we were up there nonetheless and it looks like we'll be in the fight. It's always difficult to say after the first day though - the Ferraris are usually slower on Friday and then pick up the pace on Saturday."
Charles Lerclerc was third ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, the Monegasque driver lapping two-tenths off Bottas's best pace.
Pierre Gasly followed up his time-topping performance in the morning's opening session by taking fifth for Red Bull ahead of British rookie Lando Norris of McLaren and a grumbling Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull.
"This is one of the worst Fridays I have ever had so I think we have a lot of work to do," said the Dutchman, who won last month's Austrian race, ending Mercedes' unbeaten season-opening run in the process.
"It's a bit bumpy in some places, but in general there's more grip," he added, referring to the newly-asphalted track.
"It was quite windy, too, so that's not easy. We clearly didn't have a good car balance and that makes it even more difficult."
'BEST FRIDAY OF THE SEASON'
While Verstappen bemoaned the conditions, his team-mate Gasly had his best day of the year.
"Let's wait for tomorrow and Sunday, to see, but for sure it's the best Friday of the season so far for me. All the changes we've made seem to work so we need to keep going in that direction," he said.
Gasly was lapped by the victorious Verstappen in Austria and the team reacted with a major review of his car.
"It was a really good day on our side," he said.
"I'm happy because we made a lot of changes since Austria and we have a good plan."
Carlos Sainz was eighth in the second McLaren ahead of Alex Albon of Toro Rosso and Sergio Perez of Racing Point on an overcast and cool day.
The session was largely uneventful, but did feature a few rare off-track excursions across some grass by Hamilton.
British rookie George Russell of Williams was hit by gearbox problems while Daniel Ricciardo stopped on track when his Renault's engine cut out. Frenchman Romain Grosjean was also delayed by a hydraulics leak.